PRIVILEGE AND LOSS
There are countless ways of seeing our current predicament. At one level, this seems to be a wake-up call to the amount of separation, disconnection, fear and confusion that has continued to exist in our human race underneath all of the progress we have made in civil rights, women’s rights, environmental consciousness, queer liberation, etc.
TrumpleThinSkin didn’t come out of nowhere. He ignited the vast underbelly of humanity’s evolution. He spoke directly to patriarchal white America. He spoke directly to many of us who have enjoyed great social privilege for centuries, and who experience the littlest bit of power granted to the underprivileged masses as some kind of destabilizing of all we hold dear.
Those of us who have some understanding of social justice and identity politics think that white people’s feeling of being discriminated against right now is ridiculous. But it’s important for us to remember that it is a real feeling that millions of people are having. And there is truth to be found amidst the confusion. We don’t need to cater to it, or agree that it is actually discrimination. But ignoring the experience of people different than us is always dangerous. Alice Walker writes that, “Our surprise, our shock, our anger, all of it points to how fast asleep we were.” The rising up again of white supremacists and bigots of all flavors has been building for a long time.
In order to move towards a more just society there is going to be loss and pain. We are all going to have to give things up. White people, men, straight people, temporarily-able-bodied people, documented citizens, Christians, middle and upper class folks, educated people, and anyone with socio-political privilege must give some of it up. We need to learn to share more. We need to learn to listen and see deeply. We need to learn what is actually enough to get by on and what is extra.
And all of us with strong beliefs and the sense that “truth is on our side,” need to give up some of our certainty. Truth is much more complex than any of us can ever fully grok. We need to learn the truth of multiple truths existing simultaneously.
The notion that white people are not still in control in our country is as ridiculous as thinking of Donald Trump as the outsider who is going to “drain the swamp,” of our government’s corruption. But we have to get past the idea that we are right and the people who hold these views are wrong. The people that TrumpleThinSkin was able to inspire are fed up with ways that this country is not functioning well. Our government is not taking care of most of us. We’ve known that in the progressive left for decades. But we don’t have to fight the folks who voted for TrumpleThinSkin out of fear and anger and loss. We have to join forces and work together towards real solutions. This means that social activists are going to have to let go of some of our identities as noble underdogs “fighting the good fight.” As George Carlin so aptly put it, “Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.” How much of our identities are tied up with being in constant struggle—with having an enemy? Are we ready to lose that sense of righteousness?
The notion that we can shield ourselves from loss at all is an illusion. Every moment is a kind of death—a dying to the truth of impermanence. Seeing this truth is to allow for a constant process of grieving. We exist, we fade away, we exist, we fade away, moment by moment, constantly. This is the basis for life. And now, we need to open to loss even more. Not an easy task to get the masses riled up for. “Okay everyone, let’s give up stuff that we like having! 1, 2, 3, Go!” But it’s gonna happen one way or another, so it’s better we are conscious about it.
In anti-bias workshops, wherein people are invited to stand up and be seen as the members of all the different groups of people who have been oppressed, my favorite moment comes toward the end. As we acknowledge the ways many of us have been raised in a legacy of oppression and violence, how many of us were hiding parts of our identities out of fear of being attacked again, and how when we do come out and are seen with respect, there is healing. Would all people of color please stand? Would all women please stand? Would all people with disabilities please stand? Oops, we gotta reword this…would all people with disabilities identify yourself in whatever way works for you, perhaps with the help of allies? Would all LGBTQ folks identify yourself? After all the different groups who have been ostracized have a moment of being witnessed, then the leader might ask for everyone who has ever been a child to allow themselves to be witnessed? That is all of us. We have all been children at one point and been told to be quiet or just do as we’re told, and many things that were much, much more damaging. We have all been vulnerable and scared. We have all started from being born. From Nothingness. Can we remember this in the midst of our political actions? Can we see the wounded and lost child inside of TrumpleThinSkin?
And we Buddhists take it a further step. In addition to all the many levels of privilege and non-privilege, there is the privilege of what is called a “precious human birth.” It is said that being born in hell realms means that our suffering is too intense to allow us any mental space to use for waking up and finding liberation. And that those of us born in heaven realms experience too much constant pleasure and so are distracted from waking up. Those of us born into human realms have the perfect mix of suffering and pleasure to encourage us to train our minds and hearts. (For the record, many of us understand “realms” to be states of mind and conditions of living–not mystical lands invisible to the human eye.)
Human births are considered extremely privileged. I realize that this is a hard one to chew on while one is being tortured, discriminated against, imprisoned, and/or attacked. But it is an interesting perspective to ponder once there is a relative level of security. It might help many of us let go of some of our more materialistic privileges. Yes, I love my nice things and my steady income, and my property and my ability to schedule my day based on my preferences, and the freedom to speak my mind, and the privilege of shopping at markets with expensive, organic food–but at a fundamental level what is most important is that I am alive. I am breathing. My heart is beating. I have a place to sleep and eat and be safe. I could definitely get by, and even be happy with much less than I have right now.